University of Maine at Presque Isle, Maine School of Science and Mathematics unveil new partnership

Posted May 16, 2012, at 7:32 p.m.
Last modified May 16, 2012, at 7:53 p.m.

LIMESTONE, Maine — Officials with the University of Maine at Presque Isle and the Maine School of Science and Mathematics lauded a unique partnership Wednesday that will give MSSM students a head start on their college educations, save them a significant amount of money and encourage them to pursue degrees within the University of Maine System.

During a brief ceremony at the state’s only magnet school, Luke Shorty, executive director of MSSM, and Don Zillman, president of UMPI, signed a collaborative learning agreement that will give MSSM students the opportunity to receive UMPI credit for select MSSM courses they take that are taught by UMPI adjunct-qualified instructors.

“This is a marvelous collaborative opportunity,” said Zillman, adding that UMPI has worked with MSSM since it was founded on ways to enhance the educational experience for magnet school students.

“We are very pleased to be making even stronger connections with a local institution that has been nationally recognized as an elite public high school and to be providing their students with this unique opportunity,” he continued.

As part of the agreement, a process will be created for the next school year to award UMPI credit for specific MSSM courses based on syllabi and texts approved by UMPI faculty members to magnet school students who meet admissions standards set by UMPI. Select MSSM courses will be reviewed by the college to see if they are equivalent in content and rigor to UMPI courses, and college officials also will determine whether MSSM faculty members are qualified to be UMPI adjunct instructors so they can deliver the approved courses. The final step is approving specific courses so that MSSM students enrolled in them can receive UMPI credit.

Zillman said that magnet school students could earn credit for courses such as multivariable calculus, applied genetics and biotechnology, and literary theory. At least six courses will qualify.

Students at MSSM will not need to leave campus and can be taught right in their classrooms by the Limestone instructors who meet the qualifications set forth by UMPI.

The Limestone school caters to students in grades 10 through 12 from approximately 81 Maine communities and from other states.

Shorty noted that MSSM already offers many Advanced Placement courses that give students the chance to earn credits through the College Board’s AP tests. Still, many of MSSM’s courses are so unique and advanced that the College Board doesn’t offer tests for them.

“This agreement finally gives students in those classes an opportunity to get credit for their work,” he said.

He praised UMPI officials for working with the Limestone school.

“This seems like the next logical step for collaboration,” he said.

Shorty also said that he believes the new agreement will be a great recruiting tool for MSSM.

“At this school, there is no top, so to speak,” he said. “If they [students] have exhausted the curriculum here, we’ll find the next rung for them, and I’m very glad to be working with UMPI to find that next rung.”

Michael Sonntag, UMPI provost and vice president for academic affairs, said Wednesday that the new agreement could serve as a model for similar partnerships across Aroostook County and the state. He said that he felt that educational institutions should share resources rather than being competitors or perceived as being competitors.

“One of our hopes is that this may encourage these MSSM students to attend college at a University of Maine System school and help to increase the number of science and math graduates in the state,” he added.

The college credits earned as a result of the agreement are eligible for transfer. Students who take the courses will only have to pay UMPI a $25 processing fee.

Luke Peterson, 17, an MSSM junior from Machias, said that he is looking forward to taking some courses next year. He already is looking at a literature course and he said that he knows there will be a “fair portion” of his classmates doing the same next year.

Patrick Blackstone, 17, of Augusta also will be taking some courses. He said that he feels this agreement will gives colleges a “better idea of how serious we are about academics at MSSM.”

Lillian Costello, 14, of Milo said that while she will not be taking any of the college credit-approved classes next year, she plans to do so in the future.

“It will help my family financially and it will help me get further advanced academically,” she said Wednesday. “I really like math, so multivariable calculus sounds very fun. I would definitely like to take some of these classes in the future.”

The Maine School of Science and Mathematics announced last week that U.S. News & World Report ranked the establishment as the 38th best high school in the nation. The ranking, which includes nearly 22,000 schools in 49 states and the District of Columbia, measures how well schools prepare students for college and how well they serve disadvantaged students. The publication also ranked MSSM the nation’s ninth best magnet school, the second best magnet school in New England and Maine’s top high school.